Inspectors of the Ministry of Sustainable Development, the Environment and the Fight against Climate Change (the “MSDEFCC”) have broad general powers of inspection. Section 119 of the Environment Quality Act1 (the “EQA”) provides that “[e]very functionary authorized for that purpose by the Minister may at any reasonable time enter land, a building, including a dwelling house, a vehicle or a boat, to examine books, registers and records, or the premises, for the purposes of this Act or the regulations.”
In the course of his or her inspection, the inspector may, for example, collect samples, install measuring apparatus, carry out excavation and drilling, examine documents, or take photographs, videos or sound recordings.
According to section 121 of the EQA, such inspections must not be hindered in any way2:
121. No person may hinder, in the performance of his duties, a functionary or employee referred to in sections 119, 119.1, 120 and 120.1, mislead him by concealment or false declarations, neglect to obey any order he may give under this Act, or remove or deface a notice he has ordered posted, or allow it to become defaced.
The EQA does not define the term “hinder”. According to the case law and doctrinal authorities, however, it means preventing or obstructing the work of the inspector3.
In the recent case of Kealey v. Ministre du Développement durable, de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques4, a notice of non-compliance had been issued to the applicant for having denied an MSDEFCC inspector access to his property and warning her not to set foot anywhere on his farm. The applicant subsequently received a notice of claim in the amount of $500 for having prevented or hindered the work of an inspector.
In its judgment on the application to review the monetary administrative penalty imposed on the applicant, the Administrative Tribunal of Québec (the “ATQ”) restated the principles established in the decisions in Marcoux v. Directeur des poursuites criminelles et pénales5 and Verreault Navigation Inc. v. Québec (Développement durable, Environnement et Lutte contre les changements climatiques)6:
- the mere fact of denying access to a site constitutes a hindrance of the work of an MSDEFCC inspector;
- demanding that an inspector leave the premises also constitutes such a hindrance.
The ATQ added that the use of force, physical or otherwise, is not required for there to have been a hindrance7.
Very little is required for a conclusion that a hindrance took place, according to recent case law on the question, and such misconduct can give rise to a variety of sanctions.
First of all, a monetary administrative penalty of $500 in the case of a natural person and $2,500 in any other case may be imposed (EQA, s. 115.24, second paragraph, (4)).
Penal proceedings may also be instituted, as in the Marcoux8 case. A fine of between $2,500 and $250,000 may ultimately be imposed on a natural person, and of between $7,500 and $1,500,000 in any other case (s. 115.30 EQA).
You should therefore be on your best behaviour when an MSDEFCC inspector pays you an impromptu visit!